The Chicago Bears underwent a coaching makeover in the offseason. Lovie Smith is gone after several seasons that provided steadiness, but too many occasions where the Bears came up just short of the playoffs. One of those seasons was 2012, where a 7-1 start turned into a 10-6 finish and being nosed out by the Minnesota Vikings for the final wild-card spot.
Marc Trestman is the new head coach and after years of a defensive orientation under Smith, the new-look Bears may be more about offense. The retirement of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher stands to further the trend.
The team’s talent distribution also suggests that Chicago is going to have to be more offense-oriented. The Bears have a good group of skill position players. Matt Forte and Michael Bush are a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Brandon Marshall and second-year receiver Alshon Jeffrey make a good duo on the flanks and the Bears brought in tight end Martellus Bennett from the Giants.
Trestman is going to have figure out two things, both directly related. He has to get quarterback Jay Cutler to spread the ball around a little bit better, and he’s got to find a way to keep his quarterback protected.
Cutler targeted Marshall heavily in 2012, good for 118 catchers, but didn’t get other receivers involved. But when you’re 25th in the league in allowing sacks, it’s tough to scan the field and use your secondary options. To that end, the Bears drafted Oregon guard Kyle Long in the first round, but expecting that change alone to anything more than turn bad into mediocre is hoping for too much.
Even with Urlacher’s retirement, the Bears still have an older defense. Julius Peppers is 33-years-old at defensive end. The front line of the depth chart at linebacker has two starters on the wrong side of 30. It’s possible rookie Jon Bostic could end up winning Urlacher’s old job, but that would be more an indictment of the veterans on hand than any kind of positive statement about this season.
Even so, when you can dominate on the corners, your defense has a chance to compete. Chicago has aggressive ballhawks in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Both can lock down in coverage, get interceptions and Tillman’s strip-tackling skills produced ten fumbles last year. Even if that doesn’t repeat itself, Chicago can still force turnovers.
Furthermore, Peppers is still a double-digit sack man . His age requires that we be alert to signs of decline, but he’s still pressuring quarterbacks and has a lot of help on the front four. Corey Wotton on the opposite end and Henry Melton in the middle can each break down pockets if opposing protection schemes get too focused on Peppers.
Chicago’s Over/Under win number in Las Vegas is posted 8.5. My biggest problem with this team is that I have zero confidence in Trestman. I thought Smith was a pretty good coach who always produced disciplined teams that at least competed. If he were on the sideline, TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis would chalk the Bears in for at least 9-7 and an Over. But he’s not.
I can see a disaster scenario unfolding for the Bears. If the aging process shows on defense, the pressure is going to be on the new coaching staff’s offensive expertise to win games and there’s little reason to think the offensive line can provide the protection necessary. I can see Chicago going as low as 5-11 if it blows up, and no higher than 9-7 if it works. That adds up to an Under pick for me.